Kennington Avenue

Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

Remembering When

My wife and I just returned from a family reunion in East St. Louis, Il. East St. Louis has a reputation and it is not a good one. But when I hear the negative things many of them spoken by people who have never set foot in the city those negative comments are reflective of statistics that are cold, hollow and in some cases true. But the cold, hard statistics no matter how factual they may be do not capture the entire story. They do not reveal the other half of the story which is that there are good and decent, hardworking and caring people who reside there. And were it not for these people the city would have fallen off the map a long time ago. As we were sitting in church this past Sunday my sister-in-law stood to make a report about the recent relay for life campaign that happens every year to wage the fight against cancer and to celebrate the survivors of this deadly disease. She had my attention immediately because my beloved wife is a cancer survivor. She went on to say that the team from East St. Louis and her church, Truelight Baptist raised more than some of the surrounding and more economically vibrant suburban communities to be exact a little over $53,000 dollars. Good, decent, hardworking, and caring people made this happen and they do it every year. Good decent and hard working people who have great love for the city and who keep doing the right things because they believe that right will eventually overcome all wrong. When good people give up, when they stop caring we allow rot to set in and that can happen in any community. East St. Louis has its share of challenges drugs, violence, political corruption and poverty but if this city is to turn around it will be because of an indomitable spirit displayed by the countless numbers of people that I see and have seen over the last 39 years who refuse to be intimidated by the negative story, who refuse to give up. They continue to teach their children to reach for the stars but never forget to give back to the place that gave you your beginning. We heard that message loud and clear as we gathered as a family-a family that has deep roots in East St. Louis-a city that has produced Doctors of Medicine and Doctors of Education, teachers, social workers, policemen and just ordinary, hardworking men and women who know the value of work as well as the value of giving back. To my way of thinking these will be the folk who will allow East St. Louis to rise again. I may not see it in my life time but I am confident that there is a resurrection in the city’s future.

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About the author

Ken Wheeler is a retired pastor. He most recently served at Cross Lutheran Church, an ELCA congregation in Milwaukee, where he is now the director of the Bread of Healing Empowerment Ministry. For 18 years he was as an assistant to the bishop of the Greater Milwaukee Synod of the ELCA.